820 NAS honour WW2 Swordfish pilot’s last wishes with ceremony in the Med

Topic: PeopleRemembrance Storyline: Family

Aviators from 820 Naval Air Squadron honoured the final wishes of WW2 Swordfish pilot George Gibb – casting his ashes into the waters over which he once flew.

Lieutenant Gibb from Largs in Scotland is possibly the last pilot to have flown the famous biplane torpedo bomber in action during World War 2.

He passed away earlier this year at the age 98 with his ashes entrusted to 820 Naval Air Squadron, who committed them to the deep in the Mediterranean following a service aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth.

The ceremony was sparked by a friendship struck up between the ‘Stringbag’ flier and a trainee helicopter pilot following a veterans’ breakfast club in 2019, when Mr Gibb got chatting with Sub Lieutenant Alexander ‘AJ’ Walker.

“It doesn’t matter how far apart in time you have served, the Fleet Air Arm is a family and George saw me as ‘his oppo’,” said AJ.

“George passed away in January and I wanted to support his wife and children in being able to honour his contributions to the effort in World War 2. I thought it was a fitting memorial to be at sea, on the Fleet Flagship with 820 Naval Air Squadron and other representatives from the ship’s company in attendance.”

AJ read an excerpt from Mr Gibbs’ memoirs – an account of his Swordfish crash into the sea – to add a spot of colour to proceedings.

The service, led by Queen Elizabeth’s chaplain the Rev Ralph Barber, was part of a broader commemoration to mark 820 Naval Air Squadron’s role in the Battle of Cape Spartivento in November 1940.

The inconclusive encounter between the British and Italian fleets off the coast of Sardinia lasted barely an hour, inflicted minor damage on the two protagonists, and was regarded as something of a missed opportunity by both sides.

Eight decades on, today’s incarnation of 820 Squadron – based at RNAS Culdrose – flies the Merlin Mk2 helicopter and has deployed en masse with the UK flagship to act as the long-range eyes and ears of the carrier group against possible threats in the air, on the waves and beneath them.

AJ has been supporting flying operations and gaining broader aviation experience before continuing his flying training in April next year.

He added: “This deployment has been the most ambitious for a generation, with the largest ship’s company for over 40 years.  I have had highs and lows, but I’ve learned a lot, seen some great sights and made some great friends.”

It doesn’t matter how far apart in time you have served, the Fleet Air Arm is a family and George saw me as ‘his oppo’.

Sub Lieutenant Alexander ‘AJ’ Walker